I have gotten a bit behind on blogging and way behind on reading other blogs. Sorry! Life has just gotten crazy lately and I’ve been on the road a lot and busy at work the past few weeks. I’ll get caught up 🙂 In the meantime, here is my race report from the Conquer the Cove trail race that I ran on Sunday, June 5. This post is part of the Weekly Wrap linkup, hosted by Tricia @MissSippiPiddlin’ and Holly @HoHo Runs.
So, as I mentioned last week, I ran the CtC 25K trail race last weekend. It is a tough race with two big climbs and this year many of us (including me!) had the bonus of black bear encounters on the course. But more on that in a minute. This race is held at Carvins Cove Natural Reserve, which is the second largest municipal park in the nation. It’s the anchor event to the Mountain Junkies Roanoke Non-Ultra Trail Series and it offers both 25K and marathon distances. Both races start early, at 6:30 AM, to beat the heat. This year wasn’t terribly hot (low 70’s), but it was very very humid.
My morning started early, around 3:30 AM, and by 4:45 AM Barry and I were on the road to Roanoke. Although he wasn’t racing, Barry decide to tag along and run some of the final miles with me. We arrived, got parked, and then I got my bib and race packet. This years ‘swag’ also included a bandana with the race maps and elevation profiles.
We had the prerace meeting where we got to find out about the race before the race 😉 This was my third year running the race, so I’m very familiar with the course. Josh, the race director, reminded us to be sure that a wildlife sighting on the course (bear, snake, etc.) was actually real before freaking out. He also added that there had been extra bear activity in the area lately, but unless we were in the lead pack we were unlikely to encounter any. Shortly thereafter, we were off and running!
The first mile and a half or so were on a road. Starting out I felt stiff and my legs felt heavy. But I knew I had miles to go (the race measures somewhere between 15 and 16 miles) and that I had plenty of time to settle in. It wasn’t long before we entered the Cove and turned onto some lush singletrack.
Not long after getting on the trail we began a steep, 1.1 mile climb. It was the first of two major climbs during the race, and it’s a tough one.
I hiked the whole climb, for the most part, and let me tell you I was not feeling great. My calves were on fire, my heart rate was much higher than I wanted it to be, and mentally I was not feeling it. But I continued on.
Finally, we popped out onto the fire road and had a gradual, rocky descent into aid station 1 (mile 2.8). I cruised through, thanking the volunteers on my way by, and was soon back on single track trail. This next section has a lot of downhill and flat sections. Some sections are fairly technical, but others are very runnable.
This section also has many old, burned tree stumps (from a past fire) that are really good at pretending to be bears. I always laugh at them… but little did I know I would be seeing a much more real bear this year.
The stretch between aid station 1 and aid station 2 (mile 8) is about 5 miles, and for some reason it always feels long to me. I still was not feeling this run at all, but I had hooked up with 2-3 other women and was enjoying their company.
The camaraderie and good conversation carried me to aid station 2, which sits at the base of the next big climb – about 1,000 feet over 2.5 miles on a fire road.
The group I had been running with broke up, as we all left the aid station at different times, to begin the climb up Brushy Mountain. I went back and forth with a few people (we were hiking and running at different times) and we occasionally exchanged words. This climb can feel very long, and the best thing you can do is just keep moving. It was also very foggy/hazy on the mountain, which made it kind of spooky.
The fog made it hard to see very far in front of me and also made it hard to see into the woods on either side. Around mile 9.5, I heard a loud rustling off to my left down a steep hill. I slowed and looked down into the woods but I couldn’t see anything. Not too far behind me was a woman named Lori, who I had run with on and off since mile 6 or so. I could see she had heard the noise, too, as she was also looking down into the woods. I felt a little anxious, but told myself it was probably a squirrel like usual, and kept going. Then all of a sudden a young black bear comes running out of the woods from the right. He stopped right in front of me on the fire road, looked at me for about 2-3 seconds, and then took off down into the woods toward where I had heard the loud noise just moments ago. I had stopped dead on the trail, and then as he was running into the woods I was backing toward Lori. Luckily, she was close enough to see the whole thing, so I had a witness 🙂 No picture, as it happened very quickly and I was too busy trying to figure out if I was about to be eaten or not. But he looked very similar to this bear my friend captured on his trail cam recently:
Lori and I stuck together after that, and it wasn’t until we moved further up the trail that I realized the young bear was definitely young enough to still be with mamma (he wasn’t more than 2 years old) and that it was probably her we heard in the woods. That means that we were briefly between her and her baby. Yikes! The fog got thicker as Lori and I climbed, and it unnerved us a little bit. But we did feel safer together and we took turns making random noises and clapping every now and then to make sure we didn’t startle anything. That distracted us from the climb and it wasn’t long until we were rolling into the next aid station around mile 11.
I knew we were in for a 2.1 mile technical descent, so I only ate a few orange slices at the aid station since my stomach gets upset during long downhill sections. Each of the aid stations after the first one is stocked like an ultra (candy, chocolate, potato chips, fruit, etc.) which I always appreciate 🙂 We heard that many other runners who had come through were also reporting bear sightings. Lori and I had already decided we would part ways after the aid station, but we stayed relatively close as we headed down the Gauntlet trail. We were still occasionally making our ‘bear noises’ just in case. It had felt fairly cool at the top of the mountain, but the more we ran downhill the hotter and more humid it became.
Finally, after mile 12 (and with a little over 3.5 miles to go) a switch flipped in my head and I was ready to run! Good grief, it took long enough! And then Barry showed up 🙂 He had taken a nap and then started running the course in reverse from the finish line toward me. Lori and I were still running together and he joined us. He got a kick out of the ‘bear noises” I was still occasionally making, and would laugh every time I made a little “woop woop” noise. Since I was feeling good, I started to naturally pull away from Lori. We wished each other well as Barry and I headed down the trail. I was relieved to make it down Gauntlet without falling or twisting my ankle, as we turned onto an old access road.
A little over a mile later, I was back out on the paved road where the race had begun. I was tired, but still feeling fairly fresh thanks to taking it easy during the race. But I was also ready to be done. Barry and I turned off of the road onto some more single track. It was here that I encountered the only mud of the day as I made my way back towards Loch Haven Lake and the finish line.
I crossed the line in 4:09:15 – my slowest time ever at this race. But my goals going into it were to finish feeling fairly fresh, to do some climbing, and to get some time on my feet. I accomplished all of those goals. After finishing, I collected my finisher’s medal from Gina, Mountain Junkie extraordinaire. I promptly asked her where my additional bear medal was, and she laughed out loud. 🙂 From there it was time to go in the lake! And with the heat and humidity, it felt oh so good.
Barry and I hung out in the relaxed atmosphere around the finish line and I soaked my feet in the lake while we cheered in other runners, including Lori! We made sure to get a picture afterward, because how can you not after sharing several miles and a black bear encounter?
There is always a great post-race food spread at Mountain Junkies races, and this one in particular also has a cookout. I enjoyed a burger, some grapes, and crackers with hummus along with ice cold Gatorade. Yum! Then it was time for Barry and me to hit the road and head home. It wasn’t even noon, yet, and I was in desperate need of a nap!
What types of wildlife do you have in your area?
What is the earliest you have ever gotten up for a race?